Today we have a Guest Rant from Willi Galloway, who has just published Grow, Cook, Eat, a vegetable gardening guide that includes recipes, too. I particularly enjoyed Galloway’s intrepid way of looking at the entire vegetable plant, not just the parts that you can find in the supermarket. That’s what she’s going to tell us about today: the forgotten bits of spring crops that make for surprisingly good eating.
Little baby beet leaves, fennel pollen, garlic scapes, and the tender tips of pea shoots are some of the very best reasons to grow your own food. When you plant a garden you have the luxury of harvesting and eating vegetables at different stages in their lifecycle—not just the one that is best suited to packaging, shipping, and displaying in a supermarket. Most vegetables are grown for a main crop (e.g. radish roots or sugar snap pea pods), but also produce what I think of as extra edibles—leaves, seeds, seedpods, and flower blossoms that taste delicious and almost never find their way into grocery stores. Some of these extra edibles are almost better than the standard crop! Here are three of my favorites:
I would grow garlic just for its scapes—the slender stalk and beak-shaped buds that emerge in late spring. Scapes have the texture of a green onion and a mild, garlicky, slightly grassy flavor. You can harvest them at any time, but they have the best texture and taste early in their life. When scapes first appear their stalk grows straight up, then it curves into curlicues before eventually straightening up again. The bud itself swells in size as it matures. Clip a scape off just as the stalk begins to curl, when the bud is still compact. Use scissors and make the cut right where the stalk emerges from the leaves. Scapes make phenomenal pesto, but you can also grill them whole, or pickle the stalks. One of the dishes I look forward to making all year is garlic scape pesto tossed with freshly shelled English peas and pasta.
Link to the pesto recipe:
Last summer I planted some extra pea seeds in a little terracotta pot that was knocking around the garage and set it on our patio table as the centerpiece. For the next couple of months we would sit around the table and snack on the pea shoots while we drank beers in the garden. Pea shoots—the leaves, stem, tendrils, and blossoms at the tip of each plant—taste sweet with a subtle pea flavor. When you pinch the shoots back, new ones emerge in a matter of days, making this a great cut-and-come-again crop. To harvest, start at the tip of a shoot and follow the stem down past the new growth to the next lowest leaf. If you look close, you should see a little bright green nub at the base of the leaf, right next to the stem. Pinch directly above the leaf and the little nub, which will soon grow into a new shoot (you can see photos of exactly where to pinch here). We like to toss the shoots with lemon vinaigrette and thick shavings of Parmesan cheese or use them as a garnish on soups.
Link to the post with step-by-step instructions on harvesting pea shoots:
Green Coriander Seeds
Cilantro bolts up towards the sky and develops sprays of dainty white flowers as the days lengthen, or at the first hint of heat. This is a frustrating habit if you want to harvest cilantro’s leaves, but convenient if you like to eat its seeds, which are the spice, coriander. The seeds are most often harvested when they are dry and brown, but they are a real treat at the green stage. They taste citrusy and herby and not at all like cilantro leaves. They are one of my very favorite secret ingredients for marinades and dressings. But the best way to enjoy green coriander seed is infused in vodka. My friend David Perry introduced me to this concept and for that I am very thankful. The vodka takes on the citrusy flavor of the coriander seed and tastes amazing with a splash of soda and a squeeze of lime. Harvest the green seeds just after they develop when they look like emerald green BBs. Use the seeds fresh or toss them into a little lidded glass container and keep them in the freezer. To infuse the vodka, toss a good handful of green coriander seeds into a bottle of vodka and infuse for a couple of weeks. Strain out the seeds and start making cocktails.
Many other spring vegetables produce extra edibles. Try eating arugula blossoms, radish flowers and seedpods, fava greens, and the small, broccoli-like flower buds of kale, mustard greens, and Asian greens like bok choy!
Photo credits: Jim Henkens